Monday, July 21, 2008

The Wisdom of Crowds or Chaos Theory?

David Warlick is a swell guy and one heck of a programmer. I read his blog regularly. Tw recent blog posts caught my eye.

David Warlick recently wrote the following in his blog:

Mostly, I’m catching up on e-mail and preparing for a keynote I’ll be delivering at the Pennsylvania Music Educators Conference in State College on Monday. Don’t ask me to explain — by I’m really struggling over what to talk about.

In June, David Warlick blogged about his forthcoming featured presentation at NECC.

The session description reads:
Description: The world is flattening, and not just economically. Learn about three converging conditions that are redefining education?and providing windows to the future. In this presentation, I will seek to examine and factor together three foundational disruptive conditions that are converging on our schools, each serving to disrupt schooling as we know it, yet also providing direction as we work toward new models for teaching and learning — Learning 2.0.

Warlick then goes on to ask the blogosphere to tell him what those "fundamental disruptive conditions" happen to be.

Am I missing something? Is David being humble or are conferences booking major speakers lacking the preparation or expertise required to educate and inspire the audience?

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

That's All I Can Stands, I Can't Stands No More...

I just wrote the following in response to David Warlick's blog, Turning the Tables.

The Wikipedia outrage is great theatre, but even unfettered encyclopedic knowledge represents the most superficial aspect of learning.

I've said it a million times, but if the dominant metaphor for using a computer is looking stuff up, then kids will look up in appropriate stuff and adults will behave badly.

Did they distribute crystal balls in Vermont? Why are you engaged in predicting the future when there are things every educator can do today, that have been understood for a century or more, that will make schools better places for children immediately.

Any conference speaker arrogant enough to discuss the future of education should be required to publish their plan for reforming ONE school, complete with supporting arguments and references.

I am indebted to David Warlick for calling my attention to (soon to be?) web sensation, Epic 2015. I could not help but think that the Epic 2015 video is what an L. Ron Hubbard book report would look like if he was a 4th grader with a Macbook.

I suppose that the web video's ominous music and voice of god narration is supposed to scare me about the future in which I will be old and useless. It makes this case by reminding me that sells stuff. Sheesh! I'm unimpressed and pissed that I just wasted several minutes watching this schlock.

OK, let's say that the video's shocking future predictions come true and newspapers disappear. So???

Newspapers disappeared long ago from too many schools. A few years ago, my sensational 7th grade social studies teacher tried desperately to convince 9 of more than 100 colleagues to subscribe to the NY Times in his school 25 miles from NYC. If 10 teachers subscribed, the daily paper would almost free. If more educators read a major newspaper each day they might be less inclined to look for inspiration from speakers who fill their presentations with crappy videos.

These conference presentations are reminiscent of the Andy Kaufman Saturday Night Live routine in which he played a record of the Mighty Mouse Theme and made hand gestures as a form of lazy mime.

Where is the original thought, preparation or practical ideas worthy of an audience's attention?

I'm not a moron and I don't make educational decisions based on random business data. Recommending that school leaders take this nonsense seriously, based on nothing more than production values, will only make schools worse.

Are educators anywhere near reaching their tolerance for hooey? I've just about had it.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Eradicating Meaningless Euphemisms by Bombarding them with New Ones

David Warlick's most recent blog and the congratulatory support of his readers confuses me.

Let me begin by sharing a portion of his article with which I agree:

Our efforts should not be to integrate technology into the classroom, but to define and facilitate a new platform on which the classroom operates. When the platform is confined by classroom walls, and learning experiences spring from static textbooks and labored-over white boards, and the learning is highly prescribed, then pedagogy is required.

However, I am left to ask, "What do learners DO in the world of pretty diagrams, false dichotomies and networked learning platforms promised in Warlick's blog?"

However, if the platform is a node on the global network; with text, audio, and video links to other uncountable nodes on the network; and the connections are real time and clickable, and tools are available to work and employ the content that flows through those connections; then the learning happens because learners have experienced personal connections — and they want to maintain those connections by feeding back their own value. (Warlick 1/13/08)

I don't teach from textbooks or white boards and never did. My teaching has been far from prescriptive, whether face-to-face or online. This was all possible without the technology platform Warlick fashions for educators of the future. Understanding how meaningful, personal, non-coercive, creative, constructive, collaborative learning environments have been created, and in some cases sustained, around the world should be a pre-requisite for anyone professing a desire to reinvent education.

I love talking, chatting, Skyping, Twittering, blogging, Mogging (yup, it exists) and writing as much as the next guy, but a very small percentage of knowledge is constructed by talking. Much is not. I remain unconvinced that the most vocal proponents of Web 2.0 offer a vision of technology use outside of the language arts or perhaps social studies curriculum. With all due respect, talking about math or science is not the same as being a scientist or mathematician. Papert originally offered a vision of how computers make that possibility a reality.

Learning is an active process with the learner at its center. It is not dependent on instruction, online or face-to-face. I got excited about computing thirty years ago because it allowed me to make things that did not exist before or were beyond my reach. It amplified my creative abilities. Playing jazz and computer programming afforded me a community of practice of like-minded people, of various levels of expertise and shared objectives.

I have since come to understand how knowledge is the result of active purposeful construction and that computers often unprecedented opportunities to explore new domains and engage in a much wider range of projects than have ever been possible before. As Papert says, "If you can make things with computers, then you can make a lot more interesting things." The process of computer programming was as creatively rewarding and intellectually satisfying as composing music or engaging in a well-reasoned argument. What are examples of the "artifacts of learning" that Mr. Warlick "breeds?"

I fear with all my being that the remarkable potential of computing and the promise for innovation and school reform it once embraced will be lost if all we focus on is the "well-reasoned debate" at best, and looking stuff up, PowerPoint or web quests at worst.

I do not mean to diminish for an instant the power of the Internet. I have personally been online since 1983 and teaching online for more than a dozen years. I used an acoustic coupler to connect from my bedroom to a mainframe in the late 1970s and remember when my Australian host invited her neighbors over to watch me check my email in 1990. I led collaborative online education projects in the late 1980s. As I write this paragraph, even I ask myself, "SO WHAT?"

The network begins at home. Isn't there MUCH more we can do to make the existing learning environments more social, collaborative and meaningful whether electricity is involved or not? Why do we constantly jump from melodramatic tales of school to some utopian world of online alchemy?

It may be ill-advised to project onto children or the educational system an adult's excitement about how social networks have reduced their sense of isolation, answered a tech-support question or even helped shape their personal identity.

I sense that we have gone beyond the tipping point of what Seymour Papert calls "verbal inflation." We are terribly excited about so very little.

David's triad of "electronic portfolios," "course management systems" and "social networking" offers not a single clue for a teacher yearning to make school a more hospitable place for learning nor provides a child one ounce of leverage against the system many of you proclaim a desire to reform. In fact, electronic portfolios and course management systems are clear tools of the existing system.

I do happen to agree with David Warlick's concern about the cacophony of meaningless euphemisms being bandied about, but cannot help but notice the number of additional ones introduced in the comments to his blog.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Them! The technology that killed reading

The following is a response to David Warlick's blog, Expanding the Definitions of Literature… Are We? Should We?

Of course, new media should be respected, enjoyed, analyzed and criticized. It's also worth acknowledging the remarkable prophylactic effect school has on the reading habits of many children.

I know of many places, including Australia, where children are offered rigorous "Film as Text" courses where moving stories are treated as forms of literature. However, even in such courses, the canon selected is subject to debate and criticism, as it is in paper-based literature courses. With a great teacher, a student may learn a lot about analysis and criticism even if the texts might be considered dubious.

Sordid personal tales of film "scholarship"
The only time I received less than an A or B n high school English was for a quarterly-elective entitled, "Science Fiction." During class we watched "The Blob," "Sleeper," "Fahrenheit 451," "Brave New World," "2001," "Them" and other classics of the genre.

The course was enormously popular among seniors who used to get ready for the "freaky" films over lunch-hour at the local Polynesian restaurant.

I did not imbibe, but did earn a D for the course because in addition to watching movies recorded by the teacher on an early reel-to-reel video deck, you were supposed to read four or five high-quality science fiction novels at home and pass a test on them. I "forgot" that requirement.

I also earned a D in a Rutgers University history course entitled, "History and Film." I hoped that the course was about the history OF film. My bad! Classes consisted of the professor showing a collection of films starring Ursula Andress. These films were chosen less for their historical significance than to satisfy a professorial fetish. In betwen screenings, the professor would pace the length of the classroom while screaming, "...and the Prussians" so that students in the front row required rain gear. Then came the essay-based exams about Otto von Bismarck.

Who knew? I had been "studying" Ms. Andress.

Can't we all just get along?
Instead of choosing X media to replace Y media, it is ALWAYS a good idea for knowledge to exist in multiple forms and for the literate person to choose the appropriate medium. Some films are great works of literature, while just like with books, some are not. There may be compromises required by adapting a novel into a screenplay and storytelling that is impossible via the printed word.

A current example - the "Catholic League" is boycotting the film, "The Golden Compass," not because of what has been exorcised from the film, but because they don't like what was said in the original book. The head of the organization's outrage machine refuses to even see the film.

My students read books in which experts explore powerful ideas with a level of depth, breadth and passion unlikely to be matched on the web. They also read web-based articles, share their work online and reflect upon their learning experiences synchronously and asynchronously. Most importantly, my students are engaged in using computers to construct knowledge by immersing themselves in active experiences that are either greatly enhanced by the availability of a personal computer or impossible in its absence.

Why must one medium or technology win while the other loses? This question is especially relevant when the resulting change in pedagogical practice is likely to be imperceptible?

Piaget said, "To understand is to invent," while Papert embellished this to say, "If you can make things with a computer, then you can make a lot more interesting things." If you believe in project-based learning, computers make a greater range of projects possible.

I know that we like to talk about emerging technology, but this discussion is really focused on very little, ie... "How should I receive or transmit some content?" I've said it before and will say it again, learning is about a whole lot more than delivery or reception of information. Besides, 98% of these discussions are limited to language arts (perhaps with a bit of social studies) instruction.

The entire discussion of whether will kids read or watch or have standardized test answers surgically implanted in their lower intestine sheds little light on what educators should do right now to make schools more productive contexts for learning.

Hint: Identifying a new transmission vehicle isn't the solution.

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Are We Impressed Because College Students Can Use Google Docs?

David Warlick is the latest person to go all "digital immigrant" and proclaim that we should all take a good hard look at the hugely popular YouTube video, "A Vision of Students Today."

Fantastic. A college class with way too many students in it (200) attempts to revolutionize the educational system by whining in a 5 minute web video.

I'm sorry, but I'm unimpressed!

Perhaps a student should hold up a sign saying, "My professor is wasting my time and money by making me participate in a piece of exploitative propaganda in which I get to insult either my generation or the one before me just to get on YouTube."

How did bashing our own profession become such a popular sport? What possible value could demeaning educators have in a professional development setting? Are we so desperate for moving pictures or are they a substitute for actual ideas?

Is showing these types of videos the conference speaker equivalent of the teacher running the filmstrip to eat up class time?

One valuable lesson you should learn at university is that the world is full of people smarter than you and wondrous things to learn. This video and the mindless kudos afforded it make just the opposite point. Hey kids, you have cellphones! You've played Halo and excerpted someone else's blog which in summarized someone else's blog which excerpted an article on a magazine web site. THEREFORE you are master of the universe and every educational institution should abandon scholarship and discipline and any text longer than a screen.

I've wanted to tell the Web 2.0pians the following for some time.

Observation is not insight.

Factoids are not knowledge

Talk (in this case, mime) is cheap.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Apparently This Group of Tech Execs Has a Crystal Ball

Oh, if only we could see the future...

In fact, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a lobbying organization dominated by the high-tech industry can not only see into the future, but they alone know that in the 21st Century, schools will need to teach 21st Century Skills. This is all very heady stuff.

A couple of weeks ago, David Warlick, cranked his outrage machine to 11 and wrote I'm Not Teacher Bashing...

I had a conversation with a teacher the other day. She was taking a graduate course on literacy in the digital media age, and had been, as part of the class, introduced to the framework for 21st century skills from the Partnership for 21st century Skills. The framework has been adopted by the state governor, school board, and department of education for this teachers state — one of the first states to adopt the program. However, she said that when a poster of the framework was recently given out at a faculty meeting at her school, she was the only teacher who had ever heard of it. She also said that nothing more was said about the initiative by the administrator who was leading the meeting.

At the time, I responded to this alarm in the following manner...

I know I’m going to start a firestorm, but…

C’mon. Why should anyone be expected to take such a commercial piece of propaganda seriously. The document is virtually content-free and filled with corporate buzzwords and feel-good slogans. Some of the doublespeak can cause whiplash.

There must be more serious issues about what teachers know/don’t know and do/don’t do then keep up with pamphlets created by the high-tech industry.

Don’t 21st Century Skills include “Follow the money…,” “Who is the author?” or “Critical analysis of text?”

Today, the Oracles at "The Partnership," released the results of a survey in which parents remarkably believe that schools should "incorporate 21st Century skills." I suppose that means curtains for the butter-churning elective.

On October 12th, David Warlick dutifully shared this press release with his audience of educators.

This is my response....

Joel (a commenter on the blog) is COMPLETELY correct. "21st Century skills" is a vague grab-bag of "skills" wealthy parents expected for their children in the 19th Century.

I defy anyone reading such propaganda to identify anything new, different or that requires the use of a computer.

Where are the poll questions regarding what the public is willing to sacrifice, stop teaching or pay for this new handful of magic beans?

The press release itself is a textbook case in saying absolutely nothing yet maintaining an inflated sense of importance.

The recursive republication of such drivel does very little to advance the process of improving the lives of children.

Once again, I suggest that you look at the Members section of the organization's web site and consider the source of these pronouncements.

At NECC 2002, David Thornburg, Peter Skillen, Norma Thornburg and I led a standing-room only session entitled, "Standards! Up Yours!" During that presentation I read aloud from the doublespeak in "The Partnership's" just released document, Learning for the 21st Century. First I asked how many members of the large audience had looked at the document included in their conference bag. No hands were raised. It seems that just as few people take these pronouncements seriously in 2007 as they did in 2002.

One of my favorite passages from the 2002 "report" reads as follows.

A Nation at Risk also called for computer programming to be included as a "new basic," but since then, the world has gone through a technology revolution. This revolution has led to the need for all students to be technologically literate. Recognizing this, No Child Left Behind requires that children be technologically literate by the end of eighth grade.

OK, I'm confused. I understand that "The Partnership" supports No Child Left Behind, but nothing else makes any sense to me. Are students capable of programming computers technologically literate? If so, why is programming invisible in the ISTE NETs and all future "reports" from "The Partnership?"

While the work of "The Partnership" is short on specifics for improving schools, there is no doubt that the organization's support for No Child Left Behind is unwavering.

Obviously, NCLB plays a critical role in any thoughtful approach to improving the college readiness of today’s high school students. To that end, P21 has developed a set of principles to provide guidance for strengthening the Act in terms of its approach to accountability and integrating 21st century skills for today’s students. ...P21’s framework for 21st century skills already is consistent with the metrics and accountability emphasized in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act... Aligning NCLB, high school reform and 21st century learning is an issue of urgent importance. (NCLB, High Schools and College Readiness Letter (2006))

Imagine if mighty corporations like Apple, AT&T, Cisco, Dell, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, Verizon Texas Instruments (and others) really wanted to make the world a better place for learners and teachers. They could use their influence, millions of dollars and glossy brochures to actively oppose the destruction of public education represented by No Child Left Behind. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills even persuaded Sesame Street and the National Education Association to be cheerleaders for NCLB. (They too are members of "The Partnership.")

Imagine a future in which cute cuddly Elmo and the largest union representing teachers speak out against federal legislation that oppresses teachers and turns classrooms into unimaginative test-driven Dickensian sweatshops. Maybe we'll have to wait for the 22nd Century.

Help us Elmo! Bring Ernie and Bert too!

The thoughts in this blog represent the personal views of Gary Stager, Ph.D. and do not reflect those of his various clients or employers.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Animoto: Looks OK, Less Filling

OK, once again I'll be the skunk at the garden party.

Lots of people, including David Warlick and Wes Fryer, are all sorts of excited about the latest web-based tool, Animoto. Animoto takes a pile of digital images, runs them through a seizure-inducing random sequence of transitions and cheesy late-night television infomercial video effects and places a generic "techno" soundtrack underneath. With the click of the mouse you have created an incredibly annoying piece of content-free eye-candy. Voila!

Animoto is undoubtedly a cool piece of programming, but my head will explode if someone tells me that it has educational value (you know because it has everything - 1) It's easy 2) It's free and 3) It's on the Web.) Neil Postman (author of Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business) must be rolling over in his grave.

The power of digital video is in democratizing publishing and providing a potentially infinite audience for your thoughts. It's a medium newly available to layfolks. Eliminating the learner and learning from the creative process, just because you can, worries me.

David Warlick's post about Animoto offers some caution about the tool's appropriate use, but then he goes on to suggest that his daughter use it "to get attention — generate some curriosity (sic)." Will 30 seconds of video really help? Why must we be entertained at all times? How much time should a teacher spend setting up the classroom hardware so that the "lesson" may be opened up with an Animoto video?

Animoto lets you create meaningless PowerPoint-like slideshows without all of that pesky, editing, creativity or thinking. I won't even mention the discipline, knowledge and sense of history required of artistic expression. Did I mention that Animoto is easy, free and on the web?

Hey, maybe I'm wrong. The Animoto web site tells me that Steven Seagal is a user.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Why Teachers Don't Use Web 2.0 - an historical perspective

Jeff Utecht and David Warlick are among the latest educators to bemoan the lack of educational technology use by educators. In this case, Warlick and Utecht are specific in their criticism. They ponder aloud why the Web 2.0 tools they love do not appeal to more colleagues and why they are seldom used in classrooms. Both author/educators desire an education revolution, even if they have yet to articulate what that would look like in practice.

I have attempted to explore the question, "Why don't teachers use computers?" in various publications, notably addressing technical obstacles in Why Teachers Don't Use Computers; teacher recalcitrance in Gary Stager on Tech Insurgents; and a lack of leadership in Laptop Woes: Bungling The World's Easiest Sale.

Utecht expresses his frustration with colleagues who don't share his enthusiasm with Web 2.0 in a blog entitled "Fear Factor."

"My job, and I believe the job of every educational technology person is to help people get over this fear. To encourage them to explore these amazing machines. This year at my school we’ve loaded some very cool programs onto every teacher computer, and created shortcuts on the desktop so they had easy access to programs such as Skype, Google Earth, Second Life, and Scratch just to name a few. Yet I wonder how many teachers haven’t even clicked on one of these shortcuts to see what happens. Most haven’t even deleted the shortcuts even though they never plan to use them, or don’t know what to do."

The larger questions of why teachers don't continue to learn and grow are impossible to answer for there are so many factors in play. The range of finger pointing in response to Warlick's "rant" verifies the complexity of the issue. However, I think it is much easier to explain why teachers fail to embrace Skype, Google Earth and Second Life with the zeal of many "Web2.0pians." This requires a historical perspective. I believe it might be useful to compare the current situation to another heyday of educational computing. In this case, the 1980s and the "Logo community."

A bit of history of another "edtech" community

In 1966, Seymour Papert, Wally Feurzig, Cynthia Solomon and others invented Logo as a programming language for children that would allow them to explore powerful ideas by interacting with cybernetic "objects to think with." Papert had helped Jean Piaget learn how children construct mathematical knowledge and then went on to be a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence. Logo, built upon the AI language, LISP was designed as a "mathland" in which children might learn math as naturally as one would learn French by living in France. Math would be relevant, powerful and beautiful. In the late 60s Papert proposed a computer for every child when that was dismissed as heresy. Papert's work with Logo inspired Alan Kay to invent the dynabook in 1968, the predecessor to the modern laptop and "personal computer" was thought to be a computational learning space for children. The NSF, NIH and even the Pentagon funded seminal Logo research. Psychologists, computer scientists, learning theorists, mathematicians and teachers were collaborators.

By the time microcomputers became available, the MIT AI and Logo labs had published extensive research on children learning with Logo as did researchers around the world. In the early 80s and in the world's first "laptop schools" ten years later, the purpose of computers was to "do" Logo. The language, always designed to allow a wide range of personal expression and intellectual inquiry continued to evolve with advances in computing, but it was explicitly designed as an environment for children. When David Thornburg taught Logo to Stanford engineering grad students, the work was fantastic, but outside of the primary objectives for the software. HyperCard and HyperStudio were heavily influenced by Logo and the Logo community. Squeak, Scratch, StarLogo, NETLogo, Toontalk, Agentsheets, Stagecast Creator and other software environments are Logo's cousins. LCSI's LogoWriter invented the site license.

Logo's academic community grew rapidly as countless teachers around the world found Logo on their new classroom computers. The needs and objections of teachers became important subjects for investigation, debate and R&D. Byte dedicated an entire issue to Logo. One of the longest running educational technology journals, Logo Exchange, was published for close to twenty years. Dozens of how-to books filled with creative classroom project ideas and pedagogical strategies were published all over the world. Online conferences, beginning in 1985 supported the Logo community and summer institutes continue to this day. Seymour Papert and children using Logo were featured on Donahue. The BBC made a documentary about Logo. Logo conferences in the mid-1980s were major academic events attracting scholars and practitioners from around the world. Classroom teachers found themselves in collegial settings with leading intellectuals.

Perhaps, the most important thing to know about Logo was that it came with an owner's manual in the form of an educational manifesto, entitled Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. This 1981 book by Seymour Papert not only called for an educational revolution, but it predicted how schools would reject and ultimately defeat such efforts. However, the book became a bestseller all over the world and resonated with educators committed to progressive education. Not only did Papert offer Logo as a way of breathing life into Dewey, Piaget, Holt and Vygotsky, but Logo also energized a community of educators eager for social justice. Papert was a South African dissident who fought apartheid in the late 40s and early 1950s. Many of my colleagues in the Logo community fought for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam. To them, Logo was not just a programming language or an educational philosophy, it was also a way of empowering young people to use their minds in an independent fashion.

Logo was a way of giving voice to their democratic principles and amplified their child-centered teaching practices.

Logo was explicit in stating that the best learning was comprised of "hard-fun." Although Logo has no threshold and no ceiling, it does require a great deal of debugging and mastery in order to get the computer to behave in the way you want. This is the power of programming. It provides agency over the machine and enhances the intellectual stature of the learner.

As more computers were delivered to schools and the enthusiasm of the early adopters were drowned out by teachers with other priorities, Logo became harder to sustain in schools. Add commercial pressures that devalued children making their own software (for obvious reasons) and the rest is history (except I just got back from a Logo conference in Eastern Europe).

Web 2.0 today

Now, how does this compare with the concerns raised by Utecht, Warlick and their colleagues in the Web 2.0 community?

Like 25 years ago with Logo, some creative teachers today have become smitten with Web 2.0 technologies. They do creative things with the tools themselves and engage kids in interesting projects. They too can't understand why colleagues do not share their enthusiasm. These early adopters are great evangelists for the technology and hope that their work will result in school reform.

However, there are some primary differences between Logo (and its variants) and the panoply of Web 2.0 tools, including:

  • The Web 2.0 tools promoted by Warlick and Utecht were not created by educators or for children. Educators hope to find educational applications despite having almost no input into the development of future tools.

  • The Web 2.0 tools come out of corporate, not academic, cultures with very different motives.

  • There is no educational philosophy inspiring the development of the Web 2.0 tools or their use.

  • Although a principle of the Web is the democratiziation of knowledge, this is an abstract concept to educators raised on textbooks and being commanded to recite from scripted lesson plans.

  • The greater Web 2.0 community has little interest in reforming education.

  • Web 2.0 attracts very little interest in the educational psychology or even teacher education communities.

  • There exists very little peer-reviewed scholarship regarding Web 2.0. In fact, many people in the blogosphere are openly contemptuous of theory and scholarship in favor of "the wisdom of crowds," a new and popular, albeit inherently anti-intellectual world-view.

  • By definition, the Web 2.0 community is leaderless. Too often, non-equivalent opinions are given equal weight without a demand for evidence or supporting arguments.

  • There is very little material written for educators on using Web 2.0 tools in a creative fashion. Will Richardson's book is a fabulous resource for understanding the read/write web, but hardly offers provocative project ideas.

  • No matter how cool, powerful or revolutionary Web 2.0 tools happen to be, there are few if any mature objects-to-think-with embedded in them and certainly no explicit statement that their use is designed to transform the learning environment.

  • The emphasis on information reinforces passive pedagogical practices, whether intentional or not.

  • While they may be really powerful or innovative software applications, a teacher simply does not need Skpe, Google Eartth or Second Life. Using them will do little to challenge conventional classroom practice. Some of the richest examples merely enhance the existing curriculum.

  • Web 2,0 requires robust ubiquitous access to the Internet. Most schools have demonstrated an inability to trust teachers and kids online and as a result create insane barriers to teachers using the Web in an educational fashion.

  • By definition, Web 2.0 is temporal (just wait for 3.0) and new tools emerge every hour. As a result, teachers don't see a reason to invest much time in mastering technologies that will be obsolete or leapfrogged tomorrow. For many enthusiasts, collecting the tools is as important as using them.

  • Times have changed. Few Americans protest anything, not the war in Iraq, not the erosion of civil liberties. Educators don't even fight overly restrictive and counter-productive network policies that castrate the Internet. Has ISTE raised the issue before Congress? Has the NEA made this an issue of working conditions? No, there is little appetite for rocking the boat. We have become passive and compliant just like our schools wish for our students.

  • I know I'll get flamed for this, but the educational Web 2.0 community has little first-hand experience in social activism and scant knowledge of existing school reform literature. Like the discovery of new tools, one gets the sense that proponents of Web 2.0 in education are discovering educational theories here and there and then applying these ideas to the new tools.

  • What is the unifying educational theory behind using Skype, Second Life, Scratch and Google Earth?

When Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Oscar Arias campaigned for President of Costa Rica, he promised to modernize the nation's public schools. Once elected he did not neglect his pledge or buy a white board for each classroom. Instead he asked Seymour Papert and his colleagues to help Costa Rican educators use Logo as a vehicle for empowering children and teachers. The primarily low-skilled and female teaching force across Costa Rica took this mission seriously as a way of not only asserting their competence, but to improve the quality of life in their country. The NGO Arias created, Fundacion Omar Dengo, to support classroom innovation and Logo use has withstood countless changes in government and succeeds to this day. More than a million Costa Rican school children use MicroMundos (MicroWorlds) and Intel selected Costa Rica as the home of its chip manufacturing plant over ten other countries. They cited the educational system and the "Computers in schools" project as a primary reason for their investment. That investment represents something like 25% of the GDP of the nation.

Dr. Geraldine Kozberg was an interesting figure in the development of Logo use in American schools. She was Assistant Superintendent of the St. Paul, Minnesota schools and an educator who came to the profession late in life. Prior to St. Paul, Dr. Kozberg volunteered to work in the South Boston High School during the "busing" crisis of the early 1970s when White parents shot at school buses to keep their schools from being integrated. As she headed towards retirement, Dr. Kozberg spent her vacations working to establish schools in refugee camps on the Thai/Cambodian border. She was not a technologist at all. She was however a radical and progressive educator in the best sense of both words who after reading Papert's book, Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, called Papert and said, "I don't believe you. Come to St. Paul and prove it to me." The St. Paul Logo project lasted for more than a decade and served as a model of longterm, serious and sustainable professional development for educators. In St. Paul, Logo was not a technology initiative, but rather a catalyst for classroom change. This was not a secret, but its stated mission. The district invested human and financial resources accordingly.

What is the radical educational foundation of Skype? Besides, kids don't need to master Skype or even have it available in school. They can use it and other Web 2.0 tools outside of school with very little instruction and almost no practice or fluency required.

Kozberg wrote a reflective piece that might be useful in considering the current situation facing the Web 2.0 community, Whatever Happened to the Revolution? Seymour Papert's article, Why School Reform is Impossible, may also shed some light on the subject.

I remember a conference I chaired in New Jersey around 1990 or 1991. Gerry Kozberg spoke and afterwards a well-intentioned suburban computer coordinator came up to her and said that she too was a radical. Dr. Kozberg took her hand and said, "Darling, you're a nice woman, but you're no radical."

In 1996, Kozberg told the audience at Logosium '96 the following:

"The Logo community has been unable or unwilling to confront the larger social issues that are tearing at public education. In 1981, I wrote: "Logo is one part of a larger change effort designed to serve as an intervention in learning and learning environments.""

For the most part, this has not happened. The problem is not the technology, certainly not Logo. The problem is one of equity. Logo is for all kids, but the kids who need Logo the most have no access to it. They are relegated to educational games and instruction in the basic skills.

In the world of Web 2.0, being leaderless is a virtue and the value of expertise is democratized, if not minimized. There is no educational theory on which the tools are designed or the classroom practice is influenced. No critically acclaimed or even popular manifesto exists. It is difficult to sustain a "revolution" when its goals remain unclear and the soldiers rally around the tools, not ideals.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Creative Commons ≠ Free

In David Warlick’s blog post, It’s Going to Happen Without Them, Mssr. Warlick makes a wide-eyed prediction that the Creative Commons (CC) is going to put the textbook industry out of business. Unless they do what? Should the for-profit textbook industry begin to give away their products (and profits). Now that’s a formula for corporate success!

Warlick writes:
My take is that if the Textbook industry does not work really fast to reinvent itself in the image of a more participatory, reader directed, and people connecting information environment, then it’s going to happen without them.

OK, let’s say I agree that learning should be more participatory, learner-centered and collaborative. What does that ideal have to do with the Creative Commons?

The Creative Commons isn’t about making all content free. The purpose of the Creative Commons is to provide creators with more control over the copyright and subsequent use of their creative output.

Don’t believe me? The top of the CC homepage states its mission as:

“Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can use CC to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some Rights Reserved."

We must stop wrongly conflating the open-source movement with free. They are not the same thing.

I believe that the purpose of Warlick’s post was to pass along news of the Creative Commons’ new project, ccLearn, the education division of the Creative Commons. Right away I have problems with underlying assumption of this project. Such initiatives are based on the flawed premise that education equals access to content (information). Once again, this falls prey to what I call the information fallacy. Knowledge is constructed as a result of experience. Access to information represents, but a small piece of the learning process.

Besides, how does a teacher reconcile a desire to make all content free and accessible with schools’ ongoing obsession with plagiarism and cheating? I’m OK since I haven’t given a test or quiz since 1990, but what about the sheep-like teachers for whom textbooks are created?

Faulty assumptions

There are three deeply flawed assumptions underlying the notion that the latest CC scheme and its competitors, such as Curriki, will reform education.

1) No amount of groovy new wave talk of mashing-up or remixing of content can disguise that this is yet another form of tabula rasa education wrapped in a web page. This latest initiative Creative Commons initiative is about access to arbitrary educational content. This is a fancy way of saying delivery of information to students.

2) Just because a space is created for the sharing of educational “materials,” it is unlikely that many teachers will actually do so. After all, teachers do not share lesson plans. They may share ideas, but ideas are hardly what we mean by “educational materials.” Look at any of these “sharing” sites and you’ll find lesson plans, PowerPoint presentations and worksheets. Great teachers are not dependent on such static artifacts created for other students and weak teachers are unlikely to improve if their job is reduced to finding pre-chewed materials.

I suspect that the same sorts of teacher who think their worksheets are better than everyone else’s will publish “digital resources” for other teachers. A few will make a bit of money, but these materials will have zero impact on the daily practice of most teachers and even less positive influence over the education their students enjoy.

This fantasy is hardly new or dependent on Web 2.0. Your local bookstore offers countless workbooks and backline masters for sale. Do we want to extend this tradition to the powerful medium of the Web?

Look at Curriki and see the profoundly dull, random and mediocre materials being touted as a way to revolutionize learning. Can you tell that a billionaire finances Curriki? Who owns the content? Why would educators wish to write textbooks when there is so little to gain and when primary sources abound, both on the web and in convenient book form? Many of these sites look like a garage sale of content far beneath the exacting standards of even Frank Schaffer.

Textbooks are a technology that has had an enormously deleterious affect on learning. They are filled with homogenized factoids, written by anonymous committees possessing dubious qualifications and are designed to enforce a uniform teaching experience regardless of individual student differences. Textbooks are by definition one-size-fits-all approaches to teaching in which learning is at best an accidental side effect.

I’ve seen countless cases where a school district has gone to extraordinary lengths in order to fund new textbook purchases. In one case, science teachers were fired so the district could afford new science textbooks. Politicians get elected promising new textbooks and under-funded schools beg for textbook money.

This is the golden age  of (real) publishing. I like to take teachers to the local bookstore and demonstrate that there are better trade paperbacks on any subject at every conceivable developmental level than a textbook. Yet, states spend billion on such backpack ballast and add insult to injury by requiring that the books not be updated for five, or in some cases, ten years.

3) It is fantastically naïve to suggest that teachers sharing worksheets online endangers the textbook industry in any way. They are a multi-billion dollar industry most Americans (and certainly politicians) equate with education. They’re as American as spelling tests and handwriting instruction. The textbook industry is not going to roll over and play dead just because some teachers are blogging.

The keys to success in textbook publishing are simplicity, uniformity and compliance. Textbooks are about control (real or imagined) of the public school system. The companies make it very easy for school districts to buy and rollout new textbooks like clockwork. Nobody buys a textbook because it’s good. They do it because it’s quick, easy and asks nothing of teachers while promoting a public image of progress.

Recent trends like the Open Court Coaches (snitches) employed in Los Angeles and other districts; along with scripted curricula like “Success for All” demonstrate the destructive power textbooks hold over classroom instruction. These models also demonstrate how willing decision-makers are to enforce compliance and homogeneity on their teachers.

In too many cases, textbooks are weapons used against learners. It hardly matters if the weapon pointed at children is created by teachers for free on the web or by multinational conglomerates adroit at separating taxpayers from their treasure.

Textbook companies are incredibly nimble. Emphasize authentic literature and the next textbook series will have literature included. The problem is that the 32 page Sarah Plain and Tall will be abridged and each paragraph will be followed by a multiple-choice comprehension question that destroys the narrative and distracts the reader.

The Zelig-like shape-changing ability of the textbook industry has found a way to wreck every new technology that may render it obsolete. Now students can be bored with incomplete misinformation not only by reading a hardcover text, but on their iPod and laptop as well. Yippee!

Throw a new technology at textbook publishers and they’ll turn it into a textbook.

Underestimate the power of the textbook industry at your peril. Where do large district superintendents work after they retire? Textbook companies. Why? They are hired for their rolodex and access to other superintendents (re: customers) Visit Austin, Texas and see the textbook publishing offices walking distance from the state capital. Coincidence? Hardly!

Three foreign conglomerates control the vast majority of American textbooks. Why isn’t Tom Friedman or the Congress upset about turning our educational system over to foreigners? These same companies control standardized testing and test-prep. Their dominance is formidable and likely to be with us for a very long time.

Textbooks even play a role in our history. Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy from the Texas School Book Depository, not the Creative Commons.

Lawrence Lessig can afford the luxury of eating his own dog food by giving his books away. He’s a world-class attorney and tenured academic at Stanford.

Is David Warlick giving his most recent book, Classroom Blogging: A Teacher’s Guide to the Blogosphere, away for free?

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Friday, July 27, 2007

A Whole New Mind?

A review by Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.

I have long been uncomfortable with how eager school leaders are to embrace popular business books. It seems odd that educators would seek inspiration from business authors rather than other educators. When I attended a conference where five consecutive speakers quoted from Tom Friedman’s book, The World is Flat, I was inspired to write the controversial article, Reading Fads: Why Tom Friedman Does Not Compute.

That article not only discussed the bizarre conclusions and sloppy logic presented by Tom Friedman, but also explored why school leaders are so drawn to business self-help books. Surely there are lessons to be learned from actual educators who can inspire educational practice.

As more and more educators discuss their craft in the blogosphere a remarkable number of them quote from business how-to manuals while very few ever mention the work of notable educational theorists and practitioners. The concise nature of the blogosphere takes already oversimplified principles and abridges them to fit the grammar of the medium.

Inspired by members of the online community I read the dreadful Everything is Miscellaneous and observed countless discussions of The World is Flat, A Whole New Mind, HOW We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life), Wikinomics and Informal Learning. Not wanting to be left out, I rushed to the bookstore but felt queasy on the way to the cash register. With so many unread books about education sitting on my desk I could not bring myself to give any more of my money to these business authors.

Eventually I purchased and read Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. I did so in order to be able to discuss the book thoughtfully on various blogs and in professional development settings.

What business gurus like Don Tapscott, Daniel Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, Stephen Covey, Tony Robbins have in common is that none of them actually ever ran a business prior to hitting the bestseller list offering business advice to others. Most of them have never been the night manager of a Seven-Eleven let alone launched or managed an innovative business venture.

They are fancy talkers

That is their skill. Several are evangelicals. Faith or pseudoscience, along with a dose of prosperity theology, is used to advance their arguments.

Their audience is adults who dream of being rich or increase their personal productivity. Neither goal is analogous to the education of children.

There’s trouble right here in River City

I’ve observed that the fancy talkers tend to have three or four good stories, perhaps as many as seven, they use to captivate their readers. If you see the author on Charlie Rose, you hear the three stories. Google an interview and you’ll read the three stories. Read the book and the three stories will appear verbatim. There is a polish to their schtick that often masquerades a lack of depth or thoughtfulness.

Many of these authors are linguistic jugglers. They can turn a phrase (or at least a handful of rehearsed ones) brilliantly. I compared Thomas Friedman to Nipsey Russell in my review of Friedman’s book due to his penchant for reducing complex ideas to puns.

Ultimately the success of these books is based on the authors’ ability to reduce complex concepts to simplistic binary dichotomies or playground rhymes. Such books are filled with numbered rule-based advice with little room for nuance. Issues are either black or white. The principles apply to any situation.

Obviously, lots of people buy these books. Some even read them. Many of the readers are hooked on this genre of business book and purchase lots of them. Ironically, the people who don’t read these books are successful business leaders. The New York Times article, C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success, tells us that most successful business leaders, the people self-help book readers wish to emulate, do not read business books. They read poetry and novels and great non-fiction written by experts. In short, CEO libraries are tributes to a great liberal arts education. Now that is a lesson school leaders should learn.

It is the great insecurity of wannabes that drives the sales of popular business books. I am of the opinion that educators with limited time should not squander it studying to be CEOs. This is especially true when these books are written by charlatans and touted by educational gurus who themselves are fancy talkers.

Education should be about doing, not talking. Education leaders should be well versed in the literature (past and present) of their chosen profession.

Which brings me to Whole New Mind

Alan November, Will Richardson and other well-respected educators are fans of Daniel Pink’s 2005 book. I had not read the book until recently. Recently, David Warlick wrote in his blog about how excited he was to be speaking at the same event for school leaders as Daniel Pink. Warlick is obviously a fan of Mr. Pink’s work.

I asked Mr. Warlick, “Just wondering. What are Mr. Pink’s qualifications for speaking about learning and school leadership?”

David Warlick answered my question by restating the same question. “I’m just wonder! What kind of qualifications does he need?”

Surely, an “expert” earning large sums of money for the privilege of speaking with large groups of educators about learning and leadership should know something about learning and leadership, right?

So, I broke down and bought A Whole New Mind. What follows is my initial review. I intend to elaborate on this analysis as time permits.

The Review (version 1.0)

Pink's entire thesis falls apart in the book’s opening paragraph.

"The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind - computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind - creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people - artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers will now reap society's richest rewards and share its greatest joys."

This argument reeks of the cheapest form of populism - playing on the economic insecurities of Americans to reiterate the horrific prospect of Indian and Chinese children destroying our precious way of life. OK, lots of fancy talkers make this case (re: Tom Friedman). Pink's basic thesis is much more objectionable, he uses pseudo-science unconvincingly to advance what is otherwise another pop business book. The first paragraph of A Whole New Mind is a hideous slur against every man and woman working as what new-school Pink defines as old-school knowledge workers. It is simply not true that the kind of people he dismisses (programmers, lawyers or MBAs) either have a different kind or mind or lack any of the more desirable traits he blesses in the next sentence. These are the words of a man who never used "that" kind of mind, because if he had he would understand that scary smart people are also creative and compassionate. Programmers are not pattern recognizers or creators? Give me a break! Ways of knowing are not mutually exclusive.

These caricatures and simplistic dichotomies not only devalue the "minds" of millions of people, but do great violence to education. Pink's work will be viewed by educators (and textbook publishers) as license to move students from the old mind to the new one - I guess like deprogramming gay people. How does this reconcile with ideas such as multiple intelligence theory? (Which also is too often interpreted as finding a child's dominant intelligence and then teaching everything or nothing to a child in that way. Both approaches are wrong and counterproductive.)

One gets the sense that Pink doesn’t even really believe the right-brain/left-brain ideology he advances in the book. However, real scientists who actually study the mind dismiss such simplistic models. Marvin Minsky of MIT, and author of The Society of Mind, calls the right/left brain stuff the “dumbbell theory.” Mind and brain researchers possess a humility that allows them to acknowledge the great mysteries associated with science. Daniel Pink leads readers to believe that he has a handle on how the mind actually functions.

The need for brain-based justifications for treating humans individually and with respect demonstrates the weaknesses in thinking Pink seeks to overcome. A reliance on junk science and mechanistic explanations of unexplainable mental phenomena does little to advance the quite simple proposition that all sorts of talents and aptitudes should be celebrated.

A Whole New Mind is full of factoids woven together to conjure up grandiose theories. For example, Pink’s assertion that MFAs are more valuable than MBAs suggests a zero-sum causality that simply does not exist. The fact that fewer MBAs are being hired by the McKinsey consulting firm, responsible for Enron’s creativity, while more MFAs are hired is neither statistically significant nor interdependent. The premium on design and aesthetic Pink uses to justify the development of “new mind” employees is based on economic prosperity. Rich people want goods and services of a higher quality. Advances in transportation have more to do with these trends than a “new mind.”

By the way, if you embrace Pink's two categories of minds/thinkers/workers, where would you place teachers? I know. We'll place ourselves in the good pile of people. 

Pink can't keep the differences between mind and brain straight, but admits that the whole discussion is only a metaphor anyway. His ignorance of the "old kind of mind" is unrivaled by his ignorance of the "new kind of mind." Once again, terms like symphony are used as metaphors without the slightest regard for what a symphony is or how it's created. The fact is that there are numerous similarities between writing a symphony and programming a computer. But that's in the real world, not the "new" world Mr. Pink predicts based on his experience as a Gore speechwriter, law-school grad who never practiced and latrine digger in Botswana. 

At the end of the day there is nothing revolutionary or even new about what Pink presents as “new.” The book not only plays loose and fast with facts, but the traits ascribed to the evolved human workers of the future can be found in any good salesman of the past century.

This is personal

Many of my colleagues in the blogosphere and on the speaking circuit mean well. They honestly want schools to offer what Sarason calls, more “productive contexts for learning.” However, their embrace of pop business gurus and their methods do little to advance this noble agenda. Learning is personal, diverse and complex. Reducing learning to a handful of teaching tricks does nothing to advance education or improve schools.

A Whole New Mind cannot be reconciled with my own scholarship and twenty-five years worth of thinking about learning. My personal experience obliterates the firewall Pink builds between the two hemispheres of the brain. Several bloggers conflate Pink’s advocacy for increased arts education with his frivolous claims about the mind and economic success. Grand proclamations about the future are offered as substitutes for doing the hard work required today. Neither mind nor future economic prosperity are sufficient arguments for arts education. Students should enjoy rich, diverse and bountiful arts experiences because it is what makes us human.

However, too many of the Web 2.0/School 2.0 community have given up on the promise of school. Media mashups and video games are discussed as substitutes for the discipline and powerful ideas required to play an instrument, write a novel, build a mathematical model, design a computer application, construct a robot or make sense of a rapidly changing world.

Music education enriched my life in innumerable ways. Studying music (up to three periods per day) with professional musicians (expert mentors) in the Wayne, NJ public schools laid the foundation for both my Ph.D. in Science and Math Education and being the new media producer for a Grammy Award-winning project this year. Learning to program computers in the 7th grade, where it was required of every student as a rich intellectual pursuit, helped me develop the habits of mind that serve me everyday.

The seeds of my social activism and vocation were planted when at the age of 18 I saved school music from the budget ax. Devaluing the arts is not new or the exclusive fault of NCLB. The nation began losing its soul and sense or priorities decades ago. Pink offers scant advice for reversing this trend.

Although school was often a mind-numbing, soul-killing experience I learned to play an instrument, love the arts, program computers and compose music in the public schools.  I wish that every child may enjoy a plethora of rich learning adventures. Jingoism and junk science offer insufficient justification or motivation for educational progress.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Studying? Cheating? Why Both Represent the Status Quo

David Warlick wrote a blog this past weekend, Games • Learning • Society [classroom strategy guides?], in which he discussed gaming, the use of cheat sites by gamers (kids) and the obvious question of whether this phenomena has any implications for school.
"It occurred to me that study guides for tests are a lot like strategy guides for video games," wrote Mr. Warlick.

My response may seem a bit radical...

Studying, which in school parlance really means memorizing, is based on the assumption that learning is unnatural. This is categorically untrue.

"Learning" a computer game cheat code from a web site is a very low-level of learning. It's just looking something up, like much of what schools misrepresent as student research. This activity bares little resemblance to "studying" the violin or "studying" to be a brain surgeon.

Some educators marvel or recoil at students finding cheat codes on the web, but that's only because ingenuity is so rare within the school curriculum. Classroom mischief may offer the richest or exclusive contexts for ingenuity.

If school wasn't based on right and wrong answers, studying would be unnecessary.

Cheating is only necessary when it's viable. Assessment schemes, like tests, are only necessary when teachers are not respected and when teachers don't trust their own instincts.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

What's a computer game?

It's always kinda weird and creepy when adults, particularly academics, talk about computer games. It's a bit like your grandparents saying, "groovy." That said, your roving reporter David Warlick reports on a presentation by Dr. Angela McFarlane in which she shares some impressive data about teacher attitudes towards the use of computer games in U.K. classrooms.

Dr. McFarlane is an old friend of mine for whom I have the greatest respect. We met at a workshop I led at NECC 1990 and worked together several times in the early 1990s. She is much wiser and more competent than 90% of the folks blabbering on about the educational potential of computer games. (I write about this issue recently in Edugaming - A Bad Idea for All Ages)

Unfortunately, I was unable to hear Dr. McFarlane speak this week, but I suspect that what she means by computer games, may differ substantially from what we Americans mean.

I just wrote the following on Warlick's blog...

You might wish to investigate what the UK considers computer games. As it’s been said, the UK and Australia have long used games in their teaching even if those games (and their formats) would be completely alien to Americans. I don’t suspect that “off the shelf” means Grand Theft Auto or even Math Blaster.

Another old colleague of mine, Mike Matson, had a company, 4Mation, in the U.K. that created graphic adventure games for children. (read about him and his work here. Two of his most famous titles were Granny’s Garden and Flowers of Crystal.

We’ve had graphic adventures in the United States, but they never took off in classrooms. On the otherhand, Matson’s masterpieces sold LIKE CRAZY and were used widely in Commonwealth Countries. I hardly ever visited an Australian or New Zealand school without seeing or hearing about one of Mike's adventure games being used. They weren't simulations as much as they were digital literature.

There are two important facts worthy of your attention:

1) Kids didn’t just play these graphic adventures on the one computer in the back of the classroom. Teachers used them as a catalyst for storytelling, map building and countless interdisciplinary projects. These games were the basis for long complex thematic units. Walls were covered with art and student writing related to the “game.” Classrooms became fantasy lands where students could imagine being inside the world of the computer games.

I fear that few American educators would find the educational benefit in such fantastical sustained classroom excursions. I could imagine such activities being dismissed as fanciful or frivolous.

2) American software publishers could not and would not understand the success of 4Mation’s products. My colleague Sylvia Martinez can tell you about the stunned looks of disbelief on the faces of her colleagues at America’s most popular educational software company (mid-90s) when she brought Mike Matson in to discuss the possibility of working together.

However kids and enlightened imaginative teachers (unmolested by NCLB) recognized the magic.

4Mation is still in business. I believe that Matson has moved on, but the company’s web site features drill and practice titles. Perhaps that’s the American influence on Britain.

Additional Resources

MicroWorlds EX, my favorite software environment in which kids can make their own games and learn what the adult software developers have been keeping for themselves.

Scratch is worth looking at as well. It's not nearly as rich as MicroWorlds EX, but it has many fine qualities. (I'll write an in-depth article about
Scratch soon)

Sylvia Martinez has forgotten more about game design, gaming and the commercial tensions involved in game development than most people will ever know. Sylvia holds a Masters degree in educational technology, was an aerospace engineer, Executive Producer at Davidson and Associates and Knowledge Adventure, created and was VP of a game development company that created platform games for the Gameboy, Playstation and Xbox.

Sylvia has written some terrific articles about why its not that simple to place your faith in educational games as a vehicle for educational progress.

Here are a few articles by Ms. Martinez, President of Generation YES...


Discussion of above article

Game-making with students - resources & rationale from Australia

Game design as an educational activity

Games and learning

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